The Argentine countryside goes on strike. The Liaison Table, which brings together the main chambers of producers in the country, announced on Wednesday that on July 13 it will suspend the trade in grains and property to complain about the shortage of diesel. In the list of demands they also include restrictions on the dollar for importers, which has made it difficult, they say, for the purchase of fertilizers. At least eight of the 23 Argentine provinces suffer from a total lack of fuel for trucks and agricultural machinery. The Government has promised a solution in 48 hours, because it is going to “import more” diesel, according to what the Chief Minister, Juan Manzur, said on Wednesday. Carriers have had intermittent road closures for weeks. On Monday, a truck driver died after being hit in the head with a stone as he tried to avoid a picket line.
“In the different provinces of the country we are going to be concentrating the producers. Without disturbing anyone, without cutting off routes or carrying out any action that disturbs the movement of people,” said Jorge Chemes, president of Argentine Rural Confederations (CRA), one of the groups that make up the liaison table. The idea of the producers is that the trading companies join the protest.
Argentina is a producer of crude oil and refines gasoline for automobiles, but diesel for trucks must be imported. The government of Alberto Fernández is trying to resolve a bottleneck that he attributes, according to his reading, to an increase in internal demand and the world shortage of fuels, as a result of the war in Ukraine. “The higher cost of imports in energy in diesel,” said President Alberto Fernández. “They must understand that there is a lack of diesel throughout the world. In Argentina it is missing because the increase in production means that more energy is consumed. If the farmers want to remove their grains, it is because they have harvested a lot, but this problem cannot be solved with a strike”, he warned.
According to the daily survey carried out by the Federation of Freight Transport Business Entities (Fadeeac), eight provinces in northern Argentina are in a critical supply situation. The Government has promised that it will import more diesel and requested 48 hours to reverse the situation. But the ruralistas are not very optimistic: they consider that the underlying issue is the lack of dollars in the Central Bank to pay for imports and they trace a gloomy future.
“The information we have is that imports, up to now, would reach purely and exclusively for half of what is necessary,” said Elbio Laucirica, vice president of Coninagro. “We have been meeting for three months with the Secretary of Energy [Darío Martínez] and he told us that the supply of diesel was just around the corner and today we are still lamenting the lack of supply”, he added.
Diesel began to be scarce three months ago. Truck drivers are forced to stand in long queues in front of service stations, which sometimes limit the sale of fuel or charge exorbitant prices. The most affected provinces are those in the center and north of the country, where agricultural production and grain transportation are concentrated. Last week, fewer than 700 trucks entered the ports of Greater Rosario, from where much of Argentina’s agricultural production is exported. It was only a quarter of the traffic of a normal day at this time, when the South American country is in the final stretch of the soybean harvest, its main source of foreign exchange earnings.
Carriers and farmers accuse the Government of acting late in the face of the rise in winter demand. The problem is that the Casa Rosada does not have enough dollars to pay for shipments of diesel and, above all, gas. On Monday, it announced restrictions on the access of dollars for the importation of non-essential goods, with the aim of retaining 1.2 billion dollars that it will allocate to the purchase of energy. The Minister of Economy, Martín Guzmán, put the bill that has accumulated since January at 4,600 million dollars, 205% more than in the same period last year. The combination of the increase in international prices and the greater internal demand has complicated the fiscal balance of the Executive.
The carriers finally took their claim to the routes, with cuts in the soybean corridors. A protest at the entrance to the city of Daireaux, in the interior of the province of Buenos Aires, ended on Monday with one death. Tired of waiting with his cargo on the highway, a truck driver forced his way through a picket line and was chased by a group of protesters who tried to stone him to stop him. One of the projectiles went through the windshield and hit the driver’s head, who overturned and died. Police arrested three people for the attack.
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